Tucked into federal spending bill, new rules drastically alter federal marijuana policies

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As politicos weigh in on whether Sen. Ted Cruz should have filibustered the $1.1 Trillion federal spending bill to reduce federal spending, or whether Sen. Elizabeth Warren should have beat him to it to stop a provision giving Wall Street renewed permission to gamble with public money, drug policy reform advocates are quietly lobbying President Obama to sign the bill because it includes sweeping new protections for state marijuana programs that otherwise defy federal law.

The Drug Policy Alliance is out with this report today:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The final “cromnibus” federal spending bill that Congress passed over the weekend contains historic language prohibiting the U.S. Justice Department from spending any money to undermine state medical marijuana laws.

The spending bill also includes a bipartisan amendment that prohibits the DEA from blocking implementation of a federal law passed last year by Congress that allows hemp cultivation for academic and agricultural research purposes in states that allow it. It also contains an amendment allowing Washington, D.C.’s voter-approved initiative legalizing marijuana possession and home cultivation for personal use to move forward, but prohibits D.C. policymakers from using any local or federal 2015 funding to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol.

“For the first time, Congress is letting states set their own medical marijuana and hemp policies, a huge step forward for sensible drug policy,” said Bill Piper, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s office of national affairs. “States will continue to reform their marijuana laws and Congress will be forced to accommodate them. It’s not a question of if, but when, federal marijuana prohibition will be repealed.”

Earlier this year, 219 members of the U.S. House voted for a bipartisan amendment that was sponsored by Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Democrat Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA) and ten other members of Congress prohibiting the DEA from undermining medical marijuana laws in nearly two dozen states, as well as eleven additional states that regulate CBD oils. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced a similar amendment in the Senate but a vote by the Senate on the amendment was never held.

The House amendment made it into the final appropriations bill, marking the first time Congress has ever cut off funding to marijuana enforcement. Another House amendment sponsored by Republican Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Democrat Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) prohibiting the DEA from undermining a federal law that allows industrial hemp research under certain circumstances also made it into the final appropriations bill.

This sweeping change of federal policy, by Congress no less, gives hope to many that federal policy on marijuana is changing with states.

New Mexico has long been a national leader on state-based drug policy reform. Under Gov. Bill Richardson, the state was one of the first to adopt a medical marijuana program and voter-led initiatives in Santa Fe and Albuquerque earlier this year led Santa Fe to decriminalize possession of marijuana.

Voters in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties voted overwhelmingly to support decriminalizing during elections in November.